By Andrew Hesford-Booth
Daytime television scheduling is considered a fairly recent idea – ask most viewers when it began, and you’ll get widely varying answers. Did it start with "This Morning"? "Neighbours"? "Crown Court"? The answer is, none of these.
It began in an informal, experimental way with the first Baird experiments in 1929, where the mechanical 30-line system was used to transmit pictures and sound, in alternate two-minute snatches (there was only one frequency for both sound and vision). It was more of a demonstration of what the infant medium could do rather than a formal, scripted sequence of programmes. Gracie Fields appeared in one programme, Arthur Askey in another, in "head and shoulders" sequences, as the camera could not be moved. A prima ballerina danced on a tabletop, so that her feet could be shown on screen. But there was an echo of what was to come: John Logie Baird had arranged with Selfridges to show how the Lady Jane permanent wave could transform a woman’s hair and look – in effect, the beginnings of the "makeover".
If we flash forward to 1936, the BBC Television Service were showing programmes twice daily, at 3pm and 9pm. The early programmes were oriented towards people of means, and the daytime schedule was often repeated in the evening (being totally "direct", or live, this meant that the whole programme had to be performed twice).
There was an obsession with cooking, do-it-yourself, gardening and grooming, and given that the BBC classed television as a very low priority, the budget could not have stretched to much else.
From the recommencement of television after World War II, up until the early 1950s, any sequences of programming during the day were around the demonstration films, children’s series and "magazine"-type shows. There was a period in 1947 when the BBC cut everything back to the evenings only, during a fuel crisis.
The coming of ITV in 1955 forced the BBC’s hand. The first full day of ITV featured a serial, "Sixpenny Corner", a news bulletin, a programme for children and an introduction to a celebrity, all tied into a strand called "Morning Magazine".
The young Ned Sherrin was employed by ABC (soon to be renamed ATV) to assist in the production of a Saturday morning programme called "Week-end", which went out at 9.30 am.
ITV, unfortunately, had a different crisis to contend with. The early companies were investing vast amounts of their money and time in programming, and advertising receipts were low: in order to survive, the companies decided to concentrate their efforts on the evening schedule. And apart from special occasions, programmes in Welsh and schools programmes, that was how it stayed for many years.
In 1972, there was a relaxation on the broadcast hours set by the Postmaster General.
The ITV network had been experimenting with repeats in the early afternoons, one example being Granada’s "Encore" series in 1970/1, and episodes of popular series like "The Saint" were shown during the day to gauge reaction. Now, a more substantial schedule was being put together that would allow for schools programmes to be shown between 9.30 and 12 noon, shows for children between 12 and 12.40, ITN’s "First Report" at 12.40, and a mixture of game shows, serials and repeats of popular shows until another children’s sequence began at around 4.15pm. Some of these became favourites, like "Crown Court" (a variation on the early Granada series "The Verdict Is Yours"), "The Indoor League" (Fred Truman introduced darts, snooker and other such pub games), "Good Afternoon" (a mixture of chat and discussion) and "Lunchtime With Wogan".
Yes, believe it or not, Terry Wogan had an ATV chat show on Tuesdays in October 1972. The children’s series had an impact that has resonated through the years – think of "Inigo Pipkin" (later "Pipkins") and "Rainbow". A measure of how well this schedule worked is in terms of its longevity, for it was in place for nearly fifteen years.
The BBC had been making some token efforts in implementing an afternoon schedule, mainly by anchoring everything around the lunchtime chat show "Pebble Mill At One", news and the "Watch With Mother"/"See-saw" children’s programme.
The only real attempts at filling the day came during holiday times, and there were occasional attempts at offering something really worthwhile (in 1973, there was a short run of "The Forsyte Saga" during the afternoons). In 1983, all the schools programmes were shifted to BBC-2, and apart from "Breakfast Time" and "Pebble Mill" on BBC 1 early in the day, the "Pages from Ceefax" service became a regular feature of the afternoons.
The 1986-7 period was a period of real change. Bill Cotton decided that the licence payers who worked shifts, or who were elderly or unemployed, deserved a real service during the day, and from October 1986 that was just what they got. However, the conservatism of the ITV daytime schedule was reflected in the BBC’s approach, in that some programmes were allowed to continue for a very long time. Robert Kilroy-Silk’s discussion show, a retimed "Pebble Mill" and "Neighbours" were three such examples, and yet only the first and last are still shown. Some were popular but made some viewers cringe (anyone recall "Going For Gold"?), while "Open Air" allowed for discussion of television by means of phone-ins and mail, and should have been retained for its use of the archive.
ITV’s response was to allow Channel 4 to show their schools programmes, thus leaving the morning period after TV-am and before the lunchtime news open for development. From September 1987, "The Time The Place" was shown at 10 am, and "This Morning" – a Granada programme live from the Albert Dock, and making the best use of the facilities – became the definitive morning show, making stars of Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan. Game shows, being cheap to produce, were stripped across the schedule, Monday to Friday – "Lucky Ladders", "Supermarket Sweep" and "Win, Lose or Draw" were amongst some of them. It could be argued that while there were attempts to draw viewers into watching the morning programmes, there was a "saminess" about watching ITV at that time.
However, with "This Morning" as the benchmark by which a morning show should be judged, the BBC put together "Good Morning With Anne And Nick". It was a failed try at matching Richard and Judy, and became almost embarrassing to watch.
They tried and tried, but eventually allowed the morning to lapse into a mixture of serials, DIY and makeover shows, and with the exception of holidays, sports and other occasions, the schedule has remained that way since.
BBC-2 has developed a very striking approach, though. No breakfast programme, so they show an hour of BBC Breakfast News, then Cbeebies shows until the schools programmes. "Working Lunch" is a mixture of news and views from the City, and then, after more Cbeebies, they show an afternoon film, and a combination of general interest programmes. But it works on many levels, and probably costs less to mount than the ITV schedule.
The major development over the last few years has been "the people show", as personified by Vanessa Feltz in the 90s, and by Trisha now. Influenced largely by Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake, they are again cheap to do, but become a little boring to watch at times. There are less of them now, but only because the format has maybe been a little overdone.
Victor Lewis-Smith said apropos of "This Morning" that the show was rather akin to the adverts for wall-to-wall carpet that ran in its breaks – cheap by the square yard, and covers a whole space for next to no cost. That description could apply to daytime television as a whole. Like it or hate it, it has become a part of the nation’s viewing habits, and provides a service to those who need it, but quality control is sometimes a little awry due to the budgets involved. And yet, what is featured? DIY? Makeovers? Cooking? Not much different from the experimental Baird programmes of the early thirties